View of south end of Cape Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina. The remains of the Civil War-era steamer Planter are located within sight of an 1857 lighthouse.|
Credit: Steve Hildebrand
The wreck of a ship once commandeered by slaves and sailed to freedom during the Civil War has very likely been found.
The shipwrecked Planter almost certainly rests beneath 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) of sand and water off Cape Romain between Charleston and Georgetown, South Carolina, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week. The ship went down in 1876, 14 years after its enslaved captain and crew ran it out of Charleston Harbor and turned it over to the U.S. Navy.
The story of the Planter is one of heroism. The ship was completed in 1860. The next year, an enslaved young man named Robert Smalls came aboard as a deck hand. Smalls had more freedom than most slaves, and was allowed to keep some of his pay and move around the Charleston waterfront with some autonomy. (Smalls may have been his owner's son, according to his descendants. Smalls' mother was a slave in the home of a man named John K. McKee, and the family suspects that McKee's son Henry, who inherited the pair of slaves in 1848, fathered Smalls.) [See Images of the Planter and Shipwreck Site]